Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges

in 28th International Film Festival of Kerala

by Minakshi Dutta

I was struck, right away, by the importance of the 28th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) for Kerala’s film enthusiasts. I believe it is equally important to them as their Onam festival. The large number of audience members who participated captivated me; they came from a variety of age groups, but the majority were younger. A vibrant audience that can appreciate “good films” is essential to a film’s or industry’s success, and the Malayalam film industry is lucky to have such audiences.

The 28th Edition of IFFK, organized by the Kerala Chalachitra Academy, conferred the Lifetime Achievement Award to Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi, who addressed aspiring filmmakers in the In Conversation with Indian film critic C.S, Venkiteswaran. The festival bestowed the Spirit of Cinema Award to Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu who believes that “art creates wealth not just for the artist but for the country as a whole,” as expressed in the In Conversation session with acclaimed film critic Aswathy Gopalakrishnan. As a woman filmmaker, she also expressed her gratitude for the unique perspectives women bring.

For the IFFK competition, a total of 24 films from Asia, Africa and Latin America were scheduled in regional and international categories. FIPRESCI had to offer two Awards – one for the Best International Film and for the Best Malayalam Debut Film. 

The 28th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) held in December 2023 marked a significant stride towards inclusivity and diverse perspectives with the introduction of a special section titled “The Female Gaze.” This curated selection of films, directed by women filmmakers from across the globe offered a refreshing lens through which to view cinematic storytelling. According to Golda Sellam, curator of the 28th IFFK, each of the films tells a story that speaks to the depth, emotion, and variety of women’s experiences around the world. The section encompassed a rich tapestry of international cinema, featuring films from South Korea, France, India, UK, Algeria, and Malaysia. This global perspective broadened the horizons of the festival audience, exposing them to the cultural and social realities of women from different corners of the world. Minju Kim’s A Letter From Kyoto (Gyoto-eseo-on pyeonji), Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s Banel & Adama (Banel E Adama), Nathalia Syam’s Footprints on Water, Kaouther Ben Hania’s Four Daughters (Les Filles d’Olfa), Mounia Meddour’s Houria, July Jung’s Next Sohee (Da-Eum-So-Hee), Leititia Colombani’s The Braid (La Tresse), Amanda Nell Eu’s Tiger Stripes were included in this list. All these films represent women’s narratives through the lens of women filmmakers. The “Female Gaze” section wasn’t merely a tokenistic gesture; it was a deliberate attempt to showcase the unique sensibilities and experiences that women bring to the filmmaking process. These films challenged traditional narratives, explored nuanced emotions, and gave voice to often unheard stories.

The thematic range of the films was as diverse as their geographical origins. Some films tackled pressing social issues like the miserable life of illegal immigrants, social customs as a barrier for women’s existence and gender inequality. Others delved into the complexities of female desire, relationships, and the search for identity. In Minju Kim’s A Letter From Kyoto, Hye-young, the second daughter of Hwa-ja, becomes inquisitive about her mother’s past after discovering a letter written in Japanese. Similar to this, Amanda Nell Eu and Ramata-Toulaye Sy in Banel & Adama and Tiger Stripes, respectively, tell us about Banel, Adama, and Zaffan who had to defy their social norms in order to protect their relationship or accept the body they were afraid of in order to emerge as strong, independent women. The two films that best depict the projection of parents searching for their missing daughter—who ends up being the main target of social and legal problems—are Footprints on Water and Four Daughters. There are certain characteristics that women from all over the world have in common, and Leititia Colombani demonstrated this in The Braid through compelling storytelling.  

Eventually, the “Female Gaze” section at IFFK 2023 was more than just a film programme; it was a celebration of cinematic artistry, a testament to the power of diverse voices, and a catalyst for meaningful discussions about gender representation in film and beyond. As the curtains closed on this landmark section, one thing was clear: the female gaze is not just a cinematic concept; it’s a vital perspective that enriches our understanding of the world and ourselves. The statement made by film critic Sreaya Sreekumar during the IFFK Open Forum discussion on Female Gaze and Body Politics in Cinema on December 12, 2023, would serve as my point of conclusion: “The term female gaze itself is a language of protest against the long-existing male gaze in cinema.” The way society views the female body is reflected in cinema. Additionally, by offering a separate section titled “female gaze” and hosting an open forum discussion on “female gaze and body politics in cinema,” the 28th IFFK hopes to inspire more and more female filmmakers to tell stories from the periphery of society.

Minakshi Dutta
Edited by Savina Petkova